Vamık D. Volkan, M.D., DLFAPA, FACPsa.

 
 

 

                                                                 
 
 
WHAT SOME MONUMENTS TELL US ABOUT MOURNING AND FORGIVENESS
 
 
 
 

Vamık D. Volkan

 

 
 
 
 
 
Volkan, Vamık D. (2006.) What Some Monuments Tell us about Mourning and Forgiveness.
In Taking Wrongs Seriously: Apologies and Reconciliation, (Eds.), Elazar Barkan, and Alexander Karn, pp.115-131. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Introduction:
Because of several well-publicized “apologies” in the political arena, such as German chancellor Willy Brandt’s apology to Jewish people for the Holocaust during his 1971 visit to a monument at the former site of a Warsaw ghetto and then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1990, apology to Polish people for the World War II Katyn Forest Massacre, apology and forgiveness have become concepts that interest practitioners and scholars dealing with international relations. The work of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)—begun in the 1990s as a way to deal with atrocities committed during apartheid—involved victims telling their stories and “forgiving” their victimizers, who had apologized for their deeds. This work further brought these concepts to our attention. In some circles, the idea of acquiring the perceived perpetrator’s apology and even strongly encouraging such a perpetrator to apologize through a third, “neutral” party began to be considered a significant element in the resolution of ethnic, national, religious or ideological large-group conflicts. Thus, the practice of “apology and forgiveness” that exists in the practice of some religions began to be promoted also as a diplomatic/political practice. Meanwhile, an estimated twelve “imitations” of the TRC’s activity appeared in various parts of the world. The problems faced by those attempting to recreate the TRC’s work, and their failures, suggest a closer examination of when and how reliance on apology and forgiveness is useful and when it is not. Furthermore, observations from dialogue series between representatives of enemy groups in the presence of a neutral third party shows that parties in conflict cannot reach an agreement on making an apology, accepting it, and forgiving the other without controversy; mostly, they cannot reach such an agreement at all.
 
Over two decades, I have been involved in dialogue series between representatives of Arab and Israeli, Russian and Estonian, Turk and Greek, Turk and Armenian, Serb and Croatian, and Georgian and South Ossetian groups. When representatives of enemies come together for a series of dialogues for unofficial negotiations, usually meeting every three months over some years, they evolve as spokespersons of their large-group’s shared sentiments. During these meetings, I noted that sentiments close to concepts of apology and forgiveness are related to what I named an “accordion phenomenon” (Volkan, 1987, 1997, 1999). This phenomenon refers to opposing participants suddenly experiencing a rapprochement that is followed by a sudden withdrawal from one another. This pattern repeats throughout the dialogue series. This phenomenon resembles the playing of an accordion. The groups “squeeze” together and then pull apart.
 
Derivatives of aggression within the participants from the opposing groups, even when they may be denied, underlie this phenomenon. Each party brings to such meetings its mental representations of historical injuries and each experiences conscious or hidden feelings of aggression toward the “enemy.” Initial distancing is thus a defensive maneuver to keep aggressive attitudes and feelings in check, since, if the opponents were to come close, they may harm one another—at least in fantasy—or in turn become targets of retaliation. When opposing parties are confined together in a meeting room with a third “neutral” party and are sharing conscious efforts for a civilized negotiation, they tend to deny their aggressive feelings as they press together in a kind of illusory union. After a while, this closeness threatens each party’s large-group identity. The groups have a need to preserve their identity as one separate from their enemies. Therefore, the closeness occurring in these meetings induces anxiety; it feels dangerous, and as a result, a distancing occurs. It is during times of squeezing together that participants become directly interested in ideas or feelings that can be related to concepts of apology and forgiveness. But, as I stated, when the accordion phenomenon is at work in the dialogue process, giving and accepting apology and forgiveness is illusory. When the accordion is pulled apart, preoccupations with such efforts disappear. Realistic negotiations can be carried out when the alternating between distance and togetherness (the squeezing and pulling apart of the accordion) is no longer extreme and each can easily hold on to their group identities. It is at such times that forgiveness and apology also can be considered realistically. However, on their own, they have no magical powers; they are useful only when they are part of a multilevel effort toward reconciliation.
 
Similarly, outside of the meeting rooms for unofficial dialogues and on the international scene, expressions of apology and corresponding feelings of forgiveness also have not always been followed by positive outcomes. Some such apologies were experienced as genuine, while others were perceived as empty gestures. Thus, we need to be curious about why Willy Brandt’s apology had a seemingly positive outcome and why Saddam Hussein’s apology to the Kuwaiti people in early December 2002, when the Iraqi leader was facing pressure from the United Nations and threats of war initiated by the United States, was perceived as a joke. The arts of apology and forgiveness should not be considered to have magical diplomatic and political consequences. Willy Brandt’s apology was a factor in making the German–Israeli interactions better not because it was a single act, but because it was included in slowly developing diplomatic and political attitudes backed by multiple factors, including providing compensation for the survivors.
 
Furthermore, the concepts of apology and forgiveness cannot be fully understood without considering an involuntary human condition: mourning over losing people, possessions, land, prestige, and so on. Indeed, we mourn the loss—and sometimes the threat of loss—of objects in which we invest considerable emotion (Volkan, 1981; Volkan and Zintl, 1993). Thus, it does not surprise us that we also mourn the loss of objects that have been the target of our hate: the enemy, for example. The relation of mourning to apology and forgiveness is the focus of this chapter. I will start with a description of the process of mourning in an individual.
 
Individual mourning:
For an individual, in general, there are two types of mourning: developmental and concrete. As we develop mentally, we must mourn what is left behind each time we climb a step higher in our mental growth. For example, an infant has to leave behind his or her mother’s breast in order to crawl around and get to know his or her environment; a “loss” is followed by a “gain.” An adolescent has to mourn the parental images of his or her childhood in order to expand his or her relationships with others in a large world.  The adolescent’s mourning is included in what is popularly known as the “adolescent crisis” (Blos, 1979). The second type of mourning refers to concrete losses, such as losing loved ones, possessions, prestige, or ideals. In general, an adult who has been successful in handling his or her developmental mourning is better equipped to respond to concrete losses, since in the human mind, concrete losses are always unconsciously intertwined with developmental losses.
 
Mourning occurs because the human mind does not allow the reality of a significant loss to be accepted without an internal struggle. When I speak of the process of mourning here, I am not referring to the acute grief of people in shock and/or in pain, who may experience crying spells, frustration, anger, numbness, and withdrawal from their environment.  Rather, I am referring to a slow process of internally reviewing our real or wished-for relationship with the lost person or thing again and again until the reality of the loss or change is emotionally accepted. Thus, “normal” mourning comes to a practical end after a year or so (if there is no complication) when the image of the deceased (or the lost thing) becomes “futureless” (Tähkä, 1984). When completed, the mourning process ushers in an adaptive liberation from old burdens and from being preoccupied with persons of things long gone and no longer available to respond to our internal wishes. The image of a lost person or thing thus becomes a “memory” (Tähkä, 1984). It is through the process of mourning and its conclusion, for practical purposes, that we accept changes (losses) in reality and become able to face more realistically the disappointments of our wishes, hopes, and aspirations. Thus, a “normal” mourning process leads to an eventual freeing of one’s energy so that it can be invested into new persons or things and into one’s new post-mourning identity.
 
Because the occurrence of loss in anyone’s life is inevitable, we can easily imagine that complications in dealing with loss frequently arise. There are many circumstances that can interfere with the “normal” work of mourning. For example, a person may be too dependent on someone who is lost; the mourner then will have difficulty letting this lost person “die.” And while there is a certain degree of  “normal” anger that accompanies our response to losses, if a death is due to suicide or murder, the mourner’s “normal” anger may unconsciously be contaminated with the violence that caused the death of the loved one. In these cases, the mourning process may become complicated. 
 
Let me stay further with the individual mourning and examine its relationship with an individual’s ability to accept an apology and grant forgiveness. Obviously, not all losses are perceived or experienced as results of other’s activities. For example, people die because of old age or illness and due to natural disasters like floods or earthquakes. But there are many situations in that the mourners believe or feel that someone causes the loss, a doctor gave the wrong injection, a drunk driver caused the fatal accident and so on. Clinical work with those with complicated mourning (Volkan, 1981; Volkan and Zintl, 1993), shows that a mourner cannot accept an apology from another person whom the mourner perceives as the cause of his or her loss until the mourner works through considerably his or her mourning process.
 
The mourner who is stuck in the mourning process and is preoccupied with accepting or not accepting the change (the loss) in reality will not be kind to another person who the mourner perceives to have put him or her into this miserable dilemma. In other situations, some people, after severe losses, evolve character traits of a victim. In other words, a sense of victimization becomes part of their identity as years pass by. To accept a perpetrator’s apology means to alter once again their “new” identity, which itself will be a new loss. So they do not, in general, accept apologies.
 
With a few exceptions (Akhtar, 2002; Moses and Moses-Hrushovshi, 2002; Volkan, 1997), psychoanalysts traditionally have not paid attention to concepts of apology and forgiveness. But they have studied process of mourning intensively since Sigmund Freud’s seminal 1917 work “Mourning and Melancholia” (see, for example, research by George Pollock, 1989; Volkan, 1981; Volkan and Zintl, 1993). In this paper, my focus is on mourning processes seen among large groups (ethnic, national, religious or ideological groups composed of thousands or millions of individuals). Obviously, a group is not one unique organism; it does not have a “mind.”  When I speak of large-group processes, I am referring to the shared psychological experiences of members of large groups. Of course, in any large group, some members do not share sentiments or activities with others; they may be dissenters. Thus, large-group process refers to general trends that, once initiated, they develop their own lives, as we will see in the next section.
 
Large-group mourning:
Large groups mourn after their members share a massive trauma and experience losses (Volkan, 2000). Obviously, large-group mourning does not refer to all or many members crying openly and talking about their losses. Large-group mourning manifests itself by different means. One of them is to modify some existing societal processes or initiate new ones. For example, such a mourning process has been studied closely by Williams and Parkes (1975): Following the deaths of 116 children and 28 adults in an avalanche of coal slurry in the Welsh village of Aberfan, there was a significant increase in the birth rate among women in the village who had not themselves lost a child within the five years following the tragedy. The Aberfan tragedy was not caused deliberately by “others”: it was an “act of God.” Therefore, there was no humiliation as a result of the tragedy, and the society found a way to balance, so to speak, their losses with gains: more new babies than the statistical average.
 
Large-group mourning also can exhibit itself in evolving political ideologies. This happens especially when losses are caused deliberately by others. Because the Aberfan tragedy was not caused by others, the society found an adaptive solution to its mourning process. However, when losses are combined with humiliations and helplessness and the inability to turn passive rage into assertion, instead of adaptive, relatively quick solutions, lingering political ideologies develop and express the complications of the mourning process. For example, since the birth of modern Greece in the 1830s, after the Greek struggle for independence and separation from the Ottoman Empire, the Greeks had an ideology called the “Megali Idea,” which was a response to Greeks’ experience of many “losses” while they were Ottoman subjects.
 
Megali Idea refers to regaining all of the lands that Greeks considered “lost” to others. This ideology was accompanied by a shared sense of “entitlement” to reverse helplessness and humiliation, turn passivity to assertion, and regain “lost” objects. Many authors (see Herzfeld, 1986; Koliopoulos, 1990; Markides, 1977; Volkan and Itzkowitz, 1994), have written about how the Megali Idea played a significant role in Greeks’ political, social, and especially religious lives since the Greek Orthodox Church was especially active in keeping the Megali Idea alive and active. Since Greece’s membership in the European Union, its investment in this ideology has been waning.
 
There are other large groups, such as Serbians and Armenians, which have assimilated victimhood into their shared identity as a response to their difficulty in large-group mourning (see Emmert, 1990, and Marković, 1983, about the Serbian sense of victimhood, and see Libaridian, 1991, for Armenians’ response to a collective sense of loss.) For such groups, the acceptance of an apology then becomes complicated. As I will describe later in this paper, when a group massively traumatized by others cannot do its work of mourning in an adaptive way, cannot reverse helplessness and humiliation, and cannot turn passivity into adaptive activity, such unfinished tasks become involved in transgenerational transmission (Kestenberg and Brenner, 1996; Kogan, 1995; Volkan, Ast and Greer, 2002), and are passed to the next generation(s).
 
Still another way that a large group deals with mourning is to build monuments related to the massive trauma or to their ancestors’ massive trauma at the hands of others (Volkan, 1988). The scope of this chapter is limited: I will examine some such monuments and illustrate how they tell us about the group mourning and the group’s possible reactions to acts of apology and forgiveness. I will especially focus on one monument: The Crying Father monument in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia. It was built after the bloody conflict between Georgians and South Ossetians that occurred when Georgia regained its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Before describing the Crying Father Monument, however, I will examine the general psychology of such monuments and the meanings attached to them.
  
Linking objects and monuments:
Some individuals who are stuck in the work of mourning become perennial mourners (Volkan, 1981; Volkan and Zintl, 1993). Psychologically speaking, they do not wish to give up the hope of recovering what has been lost, but at the same time, they wish to complete their mourning, “kill” the lost person or thing, and accept reality. They find a solution in which their conflicting wishes can be expressed but never can be fully gratified; they create “linking objects” (Volkan, 1972 and 1981).
 
A linking object is an item chosen by an adult mourner that unconsciously represents a meeting ground for the mental image of the lost person or thing and the corresponding image of the mourners. Not every keepsake is a linking object; the item is a linking object if the mourner makes it “magical” and uses it as a “tool” for postponing the work of mourning. For example: after his father’s death, a young man picks up his father’s broken watch and hides it in a desk drawer. For the young man, this broken watch becomes “magical.”  He becomes preoccupied with repairing the watch, but he never gets it repaired. He has to know where this broken watch is, and he has to protect it, but he never opens the drawer to look at the watch, except on the anniversary of his father’s death.  During his psychoanalytic treatment some years after his father’s death, the young man learns that he has been a perennial mourner and that he has used the broken watch as a meeting ground between himself and the image of his father. By keeping the watch locked away, he has locked away his mourning process. His mourning process is no longer an internal process; it is externalized onto his preoccupation with the watch.  He has illusions of either bringing his dead father back to life by repairing the watch or “killing” his father by throwing away the watch.  He does neither; he remains a perennial mourner.
 
We see this happen to people living during wars and in war-like conditions. The helplessness and humiliation suffered by these individuals, and their reactions to massive trauma, paralyze many ego functions of the affected individuals. This prevents traumatized individuals from going through a “normal” mourning process. Therefore, after massive violence we see many individuals become perennial mourners who utilize linking objects. I have observed this among many Cypriot Turks after the hot conflicts in Cyprus in 1963 and 1974 (Volkan, 1979). Most recently, Croatian psychiatrists Slavica Jurcevic and Ivan Urlic (2002), studied the linking objects of Croatians some years after the Croatia-Serbia conflict from 1991 to 1995. 
 
If we look at traumatized large groups in their own right, we can say that groups that have suffered huge losses and experienced helplessness and humiliation behave like individual perennial mourners. The monuments they build to recall their shared trauma and honor their lost people, lands, and prestige may become shared linking objects. As architect Jeffrey Karl Ochner (1997) states: “We choose to erect grave markers and monuments to commemorate the lives of the dead; we usually do not intend to build linking objects, although objects we do make clearly can serve us in this way” (p.166). 
 
When a monument evolves into a shared linking object, the functions that are attached to it will vary, depending on the nature of the shared mourning that the group is experiencing. Like an individual perennial mourner’s linking object, a monument as a shared linking object is associated with the wish to complete a group’s mourning and help its members accept the reality of their losses. On the other hand, it is also associated with the wish to keep mourning active in the hope of recovering what was lost; this latter wish fuels feelings of revenge. Both wishes can co-exist: one wish can be dominant in relation to one monument, while the other is dominant in relation to another monument. Sometimes a monument as a linking object absorbs unfinished elements of incomplete mourning and helps the group to adjust to its current situation without re-experiencing the impact of the past trauma and its disturbing emotions.
 
The "Crying Father Monument" was used by South Ossetians not only to keep the mourning process externalized, but also to fuel feelings of revenge. This monument was built to honor the memory of South Ossetians who were killed during the Georgia–South Ossetia War in the early 1990s.
 
Georgia seceded from the USSR in March 1990 and adopted a declaration of independence in April of the same year. The Republic of Georgia was reborn; it had existed for only a few years (between 1918 and 1921) before it had become part of the Soviet Union. Major ethnic conflict erupted in Georgia in the years following its re-independence as the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared their independence from the new state.  Some 10 years after very bloody conflicts, both regions remain in a kind of limbo: though they remain within the internationally recognized territory of the Republic of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia maintain their own borders and governments.
 
I and my colleagues from the University of Virginia’s Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction (CSMHI) first traveled to Georgia and South Ossetia in the spring of 1998, and have returned at least twice each year since that time. Our main purpose is to help the helpers of traumatized people; this region, with a population of approximately 5 million, contains more than 300,000 internally displaced people. For the last five years, CSMHI has been facilitating a series of dialogues between Georgian and South Ossetian psychiatrists, psychologists and other influential people, including those from the media and those from legal professions. This series of dialogues is designed to increase person-to-person interaction between Georgians and South Ossetians.
 
When Georgian and South Ossetian participants got together, direct and indirect references to “apology” and “forgiveness” came up at times (the accordion is squeezed).  For example, during one meeting, some Georgian participants felt that Georgia’s own struggle for re-independence had intensified the attitude thatGeorgia is for [ethnic] Georgians.” These participants, therefore, “blamed” themselves for fighting against South Ossetians and wanted to “acknowledge” for “causing” the bloody conflict.  Realistically, there were many complicated reasons for the Georgian–South Ossetian conflict, the examination of which are beyond this brief paper.  My focus here is simply to point out that when Georgians and South Ossetians came together and talked with the help of CSMHI facilitators, they sometimes referred to the concepts of “apology” and “forgiveness.” CSMHI facilitators never suggested that the participants consider such concepts; the ideas appeared spontaneously.
 
However, such ideas were pushed aside when remarks were made to indicate that mourning over the losses of people, land, and prestige on both sides had not yet been completed, or at least not yet worked through to a great extent (the accordion is pulled apart). Participants from one side would not genuinely “hear” the other side’s apology and would not genuinely feel a sense of forgiveness as long as they continued to activate their unfinished mourning processes. To feel true forgiveness means to finish the work of mourning: to accept the reality of losses and the changed societal and political situations and not to feel the painful emotions associated with drastic events any longer.  But no one can order another person to complete, or to stop, his or her mourning; mourning as a psychological process has to run its own course. During our gatherings, the South Ossetian participants’ references to the Crying Father Monument in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, was a clear indication of the intensity of their ongoing mourning process. They would speak about this monument and subsequently change the subject whenever Georgian participants seemed to be ready to acknowledge their own side’s role in the bloody conflict. 
 
When I first visited Tskhinvali in 1990, I saw that the infrastructure of the city was basically ruined. Tskhinvali School #5 on the city’s Lenin Avenue, the future site of the Crying Father Monument, was no exception. Georgian forces had encircled Tskinvali for many months during the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict, occupying many areas, including the city cemetery. Thus, when three young South Ossetian combatants died simultaneously during the 1991–1992 sieges, they were buried in the yard of School #5. The reasoning behind this decision was twofold: first, the schoolyard was a safe place to bury them, and second, one of the victims had attended the school. In subsequent weeks, more and more dead defenders were buried there, including thirty who apparently were killed on the same day. Excepting a few people from a shelter for the elderly, no one who died of natural causes was buried there. Today there are about one hundred graves in this schoolyard.
 
Grieving relatives built a chapel and a statue, which they called the Crying Father, near the graves. The monument depicts a man dressed in a sheepskin hat and a burka (a traditional garment with long sleeves) looking at the graves. In South Ossetian culture, men are not supposed to cry; the paternal tears reflect extreme, ceaseless pain. An iron fence separates the cemetery from the rest of the schoolyard, but as one enters the yard, the statue is visible over the fence. From all three floors of the school, the schoolchildren—who began to attend the school after the hot conflict ended—can look out over the cemetery.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the schoolyard evolved into a sacred site, a symbol of South Ossetians’ sense of victimization by Georgian hands. The Crying Father Monument became a concrete symbol of continuing societal mourning. 
 
Other Functions:
There are other monuments that also evolved as shared linking objects, but were associated with functions unlike those of the Consider Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Visiting it definitely induces strong feelings in Israelis, and indeed in all those who allow themselves to feel the impact of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem is a shared linking object that keeps the group’s mourning alive. Since the losses incurred during the Holocaust are too huge to be mourned, a monument like Yad Vashem functions as a place where mourning is felt and, in a sense, “stored.” Since there have been countless ways to recall and express feelings of mourning regarding the Holocaust—in religious or political ceremonies, in books, in poems, in art, in conferences—Yad Vashem is not associated with keeping the wounds caused by the Holocaust alive in the hope of recovering what has been lost; it is not associated with a deep sense of revenge. On the other hand, the task of mourning the Holocaust is passing from generation to generation (for the relevant literature, see Volkan, Ast and Greer, 2002), and the monument links the descendants to their lost ancestors. It keeps the mourning alive without major or observable consequences.
 
In the United States, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial also evolved as a shared linking object (V.D. Volkan, 1992; Ochsner, 1997) and helped Americans to accept that their losses were real and that life would go on without recovering them. Some may believe that the Vietnam memorial was built by “perpetrators.” While there were many and massive protests against the war in Vietnam, I do not think that, I general, Am
 
 
 
 
 
 
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